Bangkok – It's been quite a while since "coup" and "political instability" are mentioned in the same breath when one talks about Thailand. But as Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's war with his friend-turned-foe, media tycoon Sondhi Limthongkul, escalates, coup rumours have begun circulating, spooking the stock market. All eyes are now on Dec 9, when Mr Sondhi has called on "five hundreds of thousands" of Thais to join his anti-Thaksin rally.
Mr Thaksin has filed several suits against Mr Sondhi, who owns the Manager Media Group, and his associates, including a case in which the Premier seeks US$24.3 million for defamation.
For his part, Mr Sondhi has aroused strong passions for involving Thailand's beloved monarchy in his anti-government speeches. In accusing Mr Thaksin of corruption and power abuse, he has charged that the Premier has usurped some of the privileges of King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
As the Thaksin-Sondhi altercation continues, rumours about a possible coup d'etat began circulating in the middle of last week, causing the Thai stock market to fall.
A law lecturer even told The Nation on Nov 26 that some elements in the Thai military were indeed considering staging a coup and had been meeting with law experts over the past two months.
Thammasat University law lecturer Kittisak Prokati said the officers wanted to know about possible legal repercussions if a coup were to take place.
Former intelligence chief and prominent political commentator Prasong Soonsiri said events increasingly resemble the weeks before the May 1992 uprising, when Prime Minister Suchinda Kraprayoon was ousted in a popular revolt.
"When I look back to the May incident, the gathering of people began with some little issues and it eventually snowballed," said Mr Prasong. "What the government is doing now is not right. It's getting out of control."
So, will Dec 9 – when Mr Sondhi hopes to bring half a million Thais to the streets – mark a watershed in Thai politics?
According to an analysis in The Nation, if 500,000 show up on that day, Prime Minister Thaksin's political clout will be all but shattered.
"As far as the Prime Minister is concerned, if this happens, the 'good scenario' would be that the crowd demand a new constitution to tone down his power and domination. This is something Mr Thaksin should gladly agree to.
"But if such a mammoth crowd wants something more than that, Thaksin will have far less pleasant options. Violence is one, but history shows that no government that opts for this route can survive. To protect his huge business interests, Thaksin may have to ponder the previously unthinkable – resignation or House dissolution," the analysis said.
If the numbers fall short of expectations, Mr Sondhi's "magic" is likely to vanish in no time. However, The Nation added: "Many political pundits still haven't ruled out the possibility of the two equally shrewd men striking a behind-the-scenes deal. These analysts believe that Sondhi's campaign was partly, if not largely, motivated by business interests, and if so the whole episode could come to an end at the same point as it allegedly began."
* Thaksin vs Sondhi (The Nation, Nov 28)
* Mercury rising (Bangkok Post, Nov 28)
* Coup being considered (The Nation, Nov 27)